This is why, although it’s hard to convict a speaker of criminal incitement, it’s not totally unthinkable in Trump’s case. In order to prevail on that charge under the First Amendment, the state needs to prove that the speaker intended violence. How do you prove that absent a confession or being able to read minds?
Well, you ask the people who witnessed his reaction to the violence as it happened and draw conclusions from that.
Is the Senate really not going to remove a president who allegedly approved of a violent assault on their own chamber?
HH: Do you, I’ve got to land the plane, though, Senator. Do you think he intended for the riot and the occupation, the insurrection to happen?
BS: I think Donald Trump wanted there to be massive divisions, and he was telling people there was a path by which he was going to stay in office after January 20th. That was never true. And he wanted chaos on television. I don’t have any idea what was in his heart about what he wanted to happen once they were in the Capitol, but he wanted there to be chaos, and I’m sure you’ve also had conversations with other senior White House officials, as I have.
HH: I have.
BS: As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building.
HH: That said…
BS: That was happening. He was delighted.
That’s a United States senator, on the record, alleging that the president was thrilled by a mob attempt to breach the Capitol and disrupt the certification of his electoral defeat. Where his own VP would have surely been murdered if the mob had found him.
Other media outlets have corroborated Sasse’s claim today that Trump wasn’t concerned or angry or anxious upon seeing the mob storm the barricades. “As supporters stormed into the Capitol on Wednesday, Mr. Trump was initially pleased, officials said, and disregarded aides pleading with him to intercede,” the Times reports. “Even when the vice president had to be evacuated during the siege on Wednesday, the president never checked with him personally to make sure he was OK.” Only Donald Trump knows the answer to this question: Would he have been happy to see Mike Pence lynched by crazed MAGA jihadis for his “betrayal”?
WaPo’s account of the scene in the White House is less sensational than Sasse’s claim that Trump was “delighted” but no one disputes that he at least enjoyed the early stage where the mob was storming the building:
As a mob of Trump supporters breached police barricades and seized the Capitol, Trump was disengaged in discussions with Pentagon leaders about deploying the National Guard to aid the overwhelmed U.S. Capitol Police, according to two people familiar with the talks…
Instead of exercising his commander-in-chief duties to help protect the Capitol from an attempted insurrection, Trump watched the attack play out on television. Though not necessarily enjoying himself, he was “bemused” by the spectacle because he thought his supporters were literally fighting for him, according to a close adviser. But, this person said, he was turned off by what he considered the “low-class” spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol.
If you’re going to terrorize legislators into implementing a coup on your hero’s behalf, at least be classy about it. There’s also this:
McCarthy demanded that Trump release a statement denouncing the mob. Initially, Trump would not agree to do it.
— Anna Palmer (@apalmerdc) January 8, 2021
So, then: It’s a slam dunk that Trump will be impeached and removed, right? Ben Sasse, at least, is a sure thing to vote for removal in the Senate. Or is he?
Impeachment, it's not just Democrats.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) says if the House pursues impeachment he will “definitely consider whatever articles they might move because I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office … What he did was wicked.” pic.twitter.com/PT3U0GnSwh
— The Recount (@therecount) January 8, 2021
Golly, that seems noncommittal. As I write this, in fact, I’ve yet to hear one Republican senator call for Trump’s removal. Maybe that’s just prudence, not wanting to antagonize their Republican constituents unless and until Pelosi forces them to act. But it’s worth noting that Lindsey Graham, who publicly broke with Trump on the Senate floor on Wednesday night, is already a firm no on removal:
As President @realDonaldTrump stated last night, it is time to heal and move on.
If Speaker Pelosi pushes impeachm ent in the last days of the Trump presidency it will do more harm than good.I’m hopeful President-elect Biden sees the damage that would be done from such action.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 8, 2021
Any attempt to impeach President Trump would not only be unsuccessful in the Senate but would be a dangerous precedent for the future of the presidency.
It will take both parties to heal the nation.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 8, 2021
I agree with Damon Linker that Pelosi shouldn’t move forward unless she knows McConnell has the votes to remove in the Senate. She’s fully justified in wanting to repudiate Trump symbolically for what he instigated, and she has sound electoral reasons to want to force Republican senators to take a formal position on this matter, but it’s reckless to put the country through another quickie impeachment for nothing more than a moral victory. And Linker’s right that hardcore MAGA fans would treat it as some sort of vindication if they couldn’t get 67 votes for removal. If she doesn’t have the votes in the Senate to push Trump out, ease off.
It sounds like Dems are pushing ahead, though. According to Politico, Pelosi is “irate” and told her caucus that Trump committed “treason.” Two different sets of articles of impeachment are circulating in the House, with Democrats favoring one that accuses him of “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States.” That draft also bars him from holding future office. CNN is reporting that two Republicans in Congress have said they’d consider voting for impeachment if the articles presented seem “reasonable.” Which means there’s little doubt it’ll pass the House — if Pelosi puts it on the floor.
The question is what Senate Republicans will do. Are they so concerned about how Trump might abuse his power over the last 12 days of his presidency that they’re willing to oust him immediately, knowing that their base will consider them traitors to MAGA if they do? Pelosi’s putting as much heat on them as she can by releasing statements like this:
* PELOSI SAYS SHE SPOKE TO JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN ON PRECAUTIONS FOR PREVENTING TRUMP FROM INITIATING HOSTILITIES OR ORDERING NUCLEAR STRIKE@Reuters
— Carl Quintanilla (@carlquintanilla) January 8, 2021
Even so, Joe Manchin is grumbling that the 25th Amendment should be used instead of impeachment on grounds that “We have to put our government together quickly,” a convenient dodge for a guy from a very pro-Trump state who’d have to take a tough vote in the Senate. (His point also makes no sense. The Senate would have to vote on a 25th Amendment attempt eventually, which would also disrupt the new government.) As for the GOP, the strongest reason for Senate Republicans to act is that this is their only opportunity to conclusively avert a “Trump 2024” nightmare scenario for the party. They can bar him from office right now, at a moment when the public is outraged at him. If they decline to do so, passions will cool in time — even over something as horrendous as the Capitol being sacked. The country is surely civically compromised enough to consider electing him again.
Establishment Republicans would end up reliving their fatal mistake from 2015-16, refusing to unify to stop him when they had a chance to do so, if they decline to remove. Which is why, perhaps, Trump should deny them the temptation by simply resigning:
Today would be a good day for Trump to resign.
— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) January 8, 2021
That’s what Pelosi really wants, I think. And if Trump resigned, he wouldn’t be barred from running again in 2024 — as absurd as that prospect would seem post-resignation.
Anyway. We’ll be past the debate over removal in 12 days, but there are destined to be congressional hearings about the Capitol attack next year and how the White House handled it. Can’t wait to hear the eyewitness testimony from Trump aides.
Update: As I said, Pelosi wants him to resign. Jump or be pushed.
In a letter to members of the House, the speaker invoked the resignation of Richard M. Nixon amid the Watergate scandal, when Republicans prevailed upon the president to resign and avoid the ignominy of an impeachment, calling Mr. Trump’s actions a “horrific assault on our democracy.”
“Today, following the president’s dangerous and seditious acts, Republicans in Congress need to follow that example and call on Trump to depart his office — immediately,” she wrote. “If the president does not leave office imminently and willingly, the Congress will proceed with our action.”
One of her deputies told the press that if the 25th Amendment isn’t invoked, “Democrats were prepared to act on impeachment by the middle of next week.” Which, ah, does not communicate urgency in a moment of national crisis. The longer this stretches out, the easier it is for Senate Republicans to say, “It’s too late to impeach him now. He has only X number of days left.” Either do it today or don’t do it.
Update: The best thing Pelosi has going for her in trying to persuade Senate Republicans is that Trump has started tweeting again:
Last night’s conciliatory video was something they could point to and say, “Look, he’s going to play nice for the next 12 days. There’s no need to remove him.” Now here he is, already rallying back to MAGA fans.